Thousands of absentee ballots counted

After a one-day break since Tuesday, two dozen volunteers and staff members resumed the task of scanning thousands of mail and absentee ballots this morning, as the three-member canvassing board convened to individually inspect damaged ballots in an effort to see that every vote counts.

68.3% of the 26,696 absentee ballots requested by St Johns County voters have been returned to Supervisor of Elections, Vicky Oakes. 36,045 ballots have been cast, in person, since Early Voting began last Saturday at 7:00 a.m. — but that means there are over 18,000 ballots that need to be canvassed as of the close of business last night.

“Judge Chuck Tinlin, attorney Mac MacLeod, and I have to look at every ballot that cannot be read through one of the optical scanners,” Oakes told Historic City News editor Michael Gold today. “If a recount is required, we will be able to pull out any paper ballot and audit it for accuracy.”

Judge Tinlin explained that if a damaged ballot is kicked out, or simply cannot be scanned, he looks at it and makes a determination how the voter intended to vote. Most every ballot is clearly evident as to the selection of the voter; however, there are some that over-vote (select too many choices in an individual contest) or under-vote (do not record any choice in an individual contest) — those ballots are tabulated, warts and all.

Tinlin showed Gold an example where a voter had selected both answers, yes and no, in a particular Supreme Court Justice retention. “We’ll mark the replacement ballot exactly the way the voter did,” Tinlin said. “The scanner will detect the over or under but count the properly voted races.”

Tinlin reads the ballot, contest by contest, to McLeod; who records the choices on a numbered replacement ballot. McLeod joked, “I’ve filled out more ballots in this election than any other voter in the county”. McLeod reads back the ballot, after its been marked, and if the two match, the replacement ballot is ready to be re-scanned.

All the ballots are labeled with numbers. Neither election workers, staff members, or the canvassing board know who cast any ballot, whether or not they are Republican or Democrat, or if any particular candidate is ahead in a race.

Tinlin reminded Gold that under Florida law, it is a third-degree felony to disclose the results of any balloting until the election has concluded. We’ll be sure not to do that.

Absentee ballots may be cast as late as 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, November 6 at the Supervisor of Elections Office located at 4455 Avenue A, Suite 101 in St Augustine. Additional personnel are on hand to assist voters with their questions about how, when, or where to vote in this election. You may call (904) 823-2238 or toll-free (888) 960-2959 if you would like help with the process.

At 2:00 p.m. on Election Day, the Canvassing Board will begin to wrap-up any remaining absentee ballots, and begin tabulation of General Election returns from the precincts starting at 7:00 p.m.

The Canvassing Board returns on November 9 at 10:00 a.m. to count provisional ballots.

By noon on Saturday, November 10, Oakes must certify the “unofficial election results”.

At 4:00 p.m. on November 16, overseas absentee ballots cast for Federal offices will be canvassed.

The Supervisor of Elections must certify the “official election results” by noon on November 18.

Canvassing board activities are open to all candidates, representatives of political parties, the press and the public. A public inspection of ballots and manual audit will be held at 9:00 a.m. on November 21, 2012 at the Elections Office.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer